Handoffs: Carroll Suggs to Al Gonsoulin

 - May 28, 2008, 7:58 AM

The name Suggs has been at the heart of the offshore oil helicopter support business since its beginning, as intrinsic an identity as the Bell name is to the telephone (or helicopter) business or Edison is to electricity. That era ended last September when Carroll Suggs, wife of Petroleum Helicopters Inc. (PHI) founder Robert Suggs and chairman of the board, CEO and president of PHI, stepped down from all those posts and sold her family’s majority interest in the company to Louisiana businessman Al Gonsoulin.

Robert Suggs founded what was to become the largest civil helicopter operator in the world in 1949 when the exciting new oil strikes being found in the Gulf of Mexico demanded development deep in the swamps and far offshore. Only the fledgling flying machine known as the helicopter could get there. In the years to come, offshore oil took off and so did Suggs’ fortune, his company growing until at one point in the mid-1980s it operated so many helicopters that only the rotorcraft fleets of the armed forces of the U.S. and the Soviet Union eclipsed PHI’s.

Bob Suggs died in 1989 and his wife, Carroll stepped into his shoes. Not content merely to sit on the sidelines, Carroll Suggs took very active hands-on control of the company, struggling with a decline in the U.S. domestic petroleum industry that resulted in the first substantial size reduction for PHI. She shepherded the operation through its first big crisis, all the while preserving and building PHI’s famed “family” way of doing business. She diversified the company into helicopter support and aeromedical operations, but the increase in business these changes created was largely offset by the growing demands of a unionized pilot force and the sharp downturn in the fortunes of the oil industry worldwide.

Finally, in September offshore oilman Gonsoulin stepped in, taking over first as PHI chairman of the board and then buying Suggs’ 51.975 percent of PHI’s outstanding voting common stock and 28.197 percent of the total outstanding common stock for $30.5 million. While Gonsoulin is chairman of the PHI board, he is also president of Sea Mar, operating a fleet of offshore oil support boats throughout the Gulf Coast.

Lance Bospflug has since taken over the jobs of PHI president and CEO.